Being Christian is the best, isn’t it? Before I took my faith seriously, bad things used to happen to me all of the time; people were rude to me, I had horrible luck, I got hurt often, and things just often didn’t work out. But now that I take my faith seriously, now that I’ve said “yes” to God with all my life, things are great; people are always nice, I’m always protected and cared for, and everything just seems to always works out for the best.

Okay, yeah. None of that is true.

It sounds so strange to say, right? That after going down into the waters of baptism, everything in our life would be easy. Clearly this cannot be the case. And yet, some people implicitly accept this. People ask all of the time, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” They have this innate expectation, for some reason, that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, that being Christian, following Christ, means that everything should go right.

Unfortunately, we now that it doesn’t. Unfortunately, we face many hardships as Christians. And so on this fourth Sunday of Easter, this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are left wondering: if Christ is truly are the Good Shepherd, then why do these things still happen to us?

For me, it’s important to remember what that title means and why Jesus deserves it.

We call him the Good Shepherd because he cares for sheep. Throughout scripture we read that he heals people with miracles, feeds them with abundant food. He is concerned not only with their spiritual lives, but with their physical well being. And so he continues to do with us, feeding and healing us through the sacraments, giving us comfort in tough times, showing us his love.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he goes after his sheep when they’re lost. Jesus did not dine with kings and queens, but with tax collectors and prostitutes, those who were sick and unclean. He went to the excluded and forgotten to return them to the community. And so he does with us, reaching out to us even when we reject him, calling our name even when we won’t listen; he is constantly trying to bring us back to God, never giving up on us.

And of course, as the greatest of shepherds, he was even willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus gave up everything, even his life, for the sake of others. This death, once and for all, set us free from our own sins, gave us an opportunity for life everlasting.

Jesus did all of these wonderful things, for them, for us.

But there’s one thing he didn’t do, one thing that he never said: He never promised that we, as his flock, would be free from hardships. He never said that everything would go well for us if we followed him. In fact, he told us quite the opposite: “you will be persecuted because of my name.”

We see this in our readings this weekend. In our first reading from Acts, Paul and Barnabas are filled with the Spirit, so much so that they preach and the entire city shows up. All that is in their hearts is a desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They selflessly go on mission for the sake of the Kingdom. And how are they repaid? Their own people get jealous of them, rise up against them, and throw them out of the city. Not exactly a comfortable or desirable situation.

The same can be seen in the second reading from the Book of Revelation. Notice how are the saints in white robes addressed: they are those who have “survived the time of great distress,” who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. The saints, the ones who have joined the Lord in perfect unity for all eternity, the ones who offer us an example of what we strive to be one day, did not escape hardship in their lives, did not enjoy happiness and comfort. No, quite the opposite: they bathed themselves in the blood of the lamb; they did not hide from the suffering of the cross, did not run from the pain that Christ endured, but united themselves with it, became a part of it.

It’s because of this that it has always fascinated me to hear Christians ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I just look at them, and I look at the cross, and I say, “Let me get this straight… You follow a man who was betrayed by his followers, rejected by the religious elite, and wrongfully murdered on a cross—a man who said that if we wanted to follow after him that we had to take up our own crosses—and you’re asking why life is sometimes difficult for Christians…? I’m sorry, but what did you really expect?”

Christ is our Good Shepherd, yes, but let’s remember what that means. He came, not to lead to the nearest luxury resort, a place of comfort and safety; he came to shepherd us to the kingdom of heaven where we hope to live and serve with him for eternity. He does not live to protect us from hard work or discomfort; no, he lives to protect us from our own selfishness that leads us to hurt ourselves and others. Most important of all, he did not die so that we wouldn’t have to; he died so that our own deaths would amount to something, so that our deaths would be a participation in his.

Being a Christian is not about having a magical genie in heaven who gives us all that we want and protects us from all that brings us harm. Being Christian is about following the one who shepherds us and taking up his example. What Jesus did and continues to do for us was not so that we could continue on with our lives as normal, but was meant to guide us, free us, and empower us to do as he did, to be good shepherds for the world, people who are willing to go to the lost, protect the weak, and even lay down our lives for another. Christ is the Good Shepherd precisely because he leads us to things that will make us more like him.

This Good Shepherd Sunday, I think it’s time to get rid of the tired and cliche, “why do bad things happen to good people,” and instead ask ourselves something much more powerful: “Lord how am I being asked to be a shepherd like you today? How do you want me to care for others, go to the lost, and lay down my life, just as you did?”

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For an industry far removed from religion, Hollywood sure does like to include God, heaven, hell, angels, and a host of other religious imagery in its movies. Television as well. This year saw the introduction of God Friended Me on CBS, and NBC’s The Good Place has continued to receive great reviews through its third season.

Unfortunately, neither Br. Tito and I had ever watched these shows so we couldn’t comment on their success. What we could comment on, though, were the loads of examples of the entertainment industry diving into the realm of religion with some subpar theology.

And yes, there are loads of examples… including my least favorite movie of all time.

Protestants believe that we are justified by “faith alone” while Catholics believe that we are saved by a combination of faith and works. Right? At least, that was what we were taught in catechism class through apologetics. Those foolish Protestants believe that they can do anything they want as long as they have faith!

Of course, Protestants don’t believe this, but it’s easy to see how this simple formula can be whittled down to this gross oversimplification. It’s also easy to see how, from this formula, Protestants might think that Catholics believe that we can save ourselves through good works. This is hardly the case, and a faithful Catholic should be repugnant at the idea: at the Synod of Orange, Council of Carthage, and Council of Trent (the latter being the one directly responding to Protestantism) the Catholic Church categorically denounced this position.

So how did we get here? And how we do get out of there?

The answer lies in cutting through the oversimplifications and getting to the root of what we actually believe. Novel idea, right? This means that things will not be automatically apparent to us. It means that the answer is going to be a bit confusing at first. We’re going to want a simpler answer to remember, a way to boil down the difference to a single line. But that is what got us into the mess in the first place! We must resist this temptation and try to get to the precise language our Church’s have come up with after hundreds of years of thinking about these topics.

Up for the challenge? Then I present you with the latest episode of Catholicism in Focus, a look at how Lutherans and Catholics define justification.

Besides being the greatest Order in the history of the Church (obviously…) the Franciscans have quite a unique feature to their history: we are the first Order to include missionary action into our Rule of life. Going to foreign nations, preaching the Word, and building up the Kingdom is what we’ve done from our very inception.

And it is what we are doing even today.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of our friaries down in Jamaica where the friars serve the poorest of the area. One friar in particular, Fr. Colin, is the pastor of two churches out in the country, requiring him to drive 20-40 minutes on dirt roads just to get to his church, and then multiple hours each day visiting his parishioners. Many live in houses made of unsealed wood and sheet metal, lacking many things we would consider basic necessities. As a missionary, he serves their needs, may it be physical or spiritual, and works to make life better for them.

It was a shame to only spend two days with him, as there was a lot more to show, but I think this video offers a great glimpse into what he does on a regular basis.

So… the first episode of A Friar Life will still be releasing today, but apparently I forgot to post this video from Wednesday on the blog. Oops. If you’re interested in the A Friar Life video, you can find it on YouTube this afternoon, but I won’t be posting it here until tomorrow.

Anyway… My first assignment! This is exciting! Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, and let me tell you: my trip exceeding even my high expectations. Having had a very difficult semester, I find myself of late very tired and worn out. (I think that fact that we got snow in Chicago twice this April also had something to do with it.) While I am often someone who looks forward to the future and gets excited about planning what’s next, I hadn’t been able to do that for UGA because I was so overwhelmed with what was right in front of me.

Getting on campus, my whole attitude changed. I found myself with a lot more life than I’ve had this year. I felt excitement in me that had frozen away in the snow and began to imagine the possibilities of the future.

And man… are there some possibilities! These students are amped up for the year, and there is just so much that we could be doing.

With that said, I hope you enjoy this video. It’s obviously not the totality of my first assignment, but it serves as a great first impression, offering a glimpse into what I’ll be doing next year. More to come, I’m sure, and be sure to check back tomorrow for the first episode of A Friar Life!